The Diné word for cat is mósí.

Native Language App Gets Cool Reception


A new American Indian language app hit the iTunes store January 20. The app features translations of animals from English to four languages—Diné (Navajo), Lakota (Sioux), Mvskoke (Muscogee Creek) and Ponca.

Each language features a variety of animal translations, which users can click on to hear the word pronounced in their preferred language.

But some users have responded negatively to the effort, one said “14 animals and that’s your app? Come on, do these languages some justice.”

Native American Public Telecommunications (NAPT) created the app and the group’s executive director, Shirley K. Sneve, Sicangu Lakota, responded to the negative comments saying the app is “a simple start.”

“As an organization, we chose to start the app with animals based off research of other apps that have had success with reaching a younger audience,” said Eric Martin, NAPT interactive media specialist.

He said this app was designed how many are, with room for improvement. “The model for launching a new app is to start small, get feedback and improve the app for the next release,” Martin said.

Other naysayers of the app criticized the Lakota language section, which was recorded by Phyllis Stone, a descendant of Chief Iron Shell, a peace chief of the Rosebud Sioux. Stone, who is a lecturer with the Nebraska Humanities Council and a Sundancer, said she knew participating in this project would leave her open to criticism, but it’s nothing she can’t handle.

And the criticism has been harsh. One reviewer said, “it would’ve been nice if they got someone who speaks Lakota to record the Lakota section.” The same reviewer continued on to say, “the Lakota is just wrong. Do not use this as a learning tool. It will only harm your language education.”

Another said, “I grew up with my grandparents whose first language was Lakota, and the person speaking Lakota was…how should I say…BAD. Sorry, but you should get someone who actually speaks the language correctly.”

Stone learned the language from her grandparents as well. Her Great Grandma Annie Kills Enemy Bordeaux was her first teacher since she would only speak Lakota. Stone also learned from her grandfather, Chief Iron Shell, who taught her when her parents refused to. “They were feeling backlashes from being Indian and my mom did not want me to go through that,” Stone said.

Stone continued her Lakota language education at Sinte Gleska University, a tribal college in Mission, South Dakota. She understands how some may interpret her manner of speaking the language as incorrect.

“Probably I mix the old way of speaking and the classroom and book way of speaking, and then I tend to almost over enunciate because as a teacher that’s what we do—enunciate,” she said. One of her teachers at Sinte Gleska, Albert White Hat, also reminded her that “everyone speaks our language differently” depending on dialects, nuances, colloquialisms, and how they learned the language.

NAPT feels that could be the cause of the disagreements as well. “Our guess is that they might say that the Lakota sounds wrong because, as you know, the Lakota language is a diverse language with different groups of Lakota pronouncing words differently. We are working to find out their exact concerns and address them,” Martin said.

Even after the negative comments, Stone sees the positive attributes of offering this app to the iTunes community.

“Everyone needs to know another language simply because of the gratitude you gain, and the self-assurance and self-confidence,” she said. “As Indian people we realize that our languages are not usually taught in schools or colleges, except some of the tribal colleges, so those of us who can need to preserve the languages by speaking them and encouraging others, other Indian people hopefully.”

Other users of the app also see what NAPT is trying to do. One says they “appreciate anything and everything positive that supports our native tongues. This is a great app for us Native people to rally around. Let’s make it stronger and better together.” The same reviewer, in response to the negative reviews, said others should “go out and make apps for your respective tongues. It doesn’t matter what you do or how you do it, so long as it’s a step in the right direction.”

And that’s just what this app is, a step, or a “gateway,” as Sneve called it.

“NAPT has the option to open-up the code of the app to tribes so that they may add to it and expand its content. First though, we need to gauge interest in the app. This app can be a gateway to Native languages but it is contingent upon funding.”

The app is free and can be found by searching “Native Language App” in the iTunes store.